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SPOTLIGHT
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8-man state: Ayers, Tiernan the faces of success

Published on -11/22/2013, 10:16 AM

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By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Jetmore High School, under then-coach Kevin Ayers, played Baileyville-B&B, with coach Steve Tiernan, for the Eight-Man Division I state championship in 2003. Jetmore's starting fullback was Chris Bamberger, now the head coach at Ness City.

The trip marked the first state berth for Tiernan and Ayers' second trip, following a state title in 2001. Jetmore won 42-6.

"We could play that 10 times and probably never beat them, so that was one you just get on the bus and say, 'Well, second is pretty good,' " Tiernan said.

A decade later, Ayers and Tiernan are already two of the top coaches in Kansas eight-man history. Ayers, in his eighth season at Wallace County, is 152-26 in his career and 3-0 in state championship games with a '07 title with the Wildcats.

"Their teams are just so disciplined, very disciplined," Tiernan said. "You could write a book on what they are doing, and you know what they are doing, but they just do it so well that there is nothing that you can do about it. They are just very fundamentally sound and always where they are supposed to be."

Tiernan, in his 13th year and third at Osborne, has an 118-19 career record. Tiernan also led the Falcons to state crowns in 2008 and '10 and runner-up appearances in '04 and '09.

This Saturday, Tiernan and Ayers will play in the state championship at the same time for the first occasion since 2003. However, Tiernan leads his 12-0 Bulldogs against 12-0 Jetmore-Hodgeman County in the Eight-Man Division I matchup at 11 a.m. at Newton's Fischer Field.

Then, Ayers and 12-0 Wallace County face off against 11-1 B&B in the 3:30 p.m. Eight-Man Division II contest.

This week, Bamberger, whose Eagles won the Eight-Man Division I championship last year, talked with Tiernan about playing Hodgeman County and coach Matt Housman. Housman played at Hanston, Jetmore's rival, and is a friend of Bamberger. Bamberger and Ayers have talked often for years.

Ayers, 39, recalled his first state championship run 12 years ago. Jetmore won its first school football title in 2001 with a 35-30 victory against Little River. In 1999, Jetmore didn't make the playoffs.

"There was three people that I didn't want to know when I did something wrong, or I got in trouble," Bamberger said. "Two of them were my parents and one of them was coach Ayers. That's really how our whole team was. I think that was really the case all those years. You almost wanted your dad to find out before coach Ayers found out, because you knew what kind of consequences you were going to get into."

Ayers recalled the practice and preparation time, plus the media obligations and pep assemblies, something he warned Bamberger about before last season's state game. Ayers thought, "How am I going to get through this?"

"So much of it was so new and just overwhelming at the time," Ayers said. "Being a young coach and going through things for the first time, I can remember just how incredibly busy and nervous and unsure how I was in that first year. People don't realize all the things that go into a state championship week."

That season, Hanston won the Division II crown. Two years later, Hanston again qualified with Jetmore. Bamberger remembered a big crowd from Hodgeman County watching both of the contests. In 2003, Jetmore delivered still one of the all-time great defenses with three shutouts in the postseason and only six points allowed. This fall, Wallace County has eight-man's best defense at just 52 points allowed, 18 in the playoffs.

Ayers had a similar turnaround with Wallace County. In 2005, the Wildcats finished 3-5. The next season, Ayers' first, yielded an 11-1 record. Midway through that fall, Ayers thought he had the pieces for a state run. In 2007, Wallace County finished 13-0.

"Anytime a defense is good, I think it boils down to, obviously the basic fundamentals of tackling on defense and being able to get to the ball," Bamberger said. "I think that was something that we were very similar (from '03 to '13). I've watched coach's team play a few times this year, and I am always impressed with how he gets kids to the ball. Their effort, whether you are a free safety or you are a nose guard, they are playing sometimes sideline to sideline."

Tiernan took over a B&B program that is one of the state's finest -- and started a run that only Midway-Denton has surpassed in the eight-man ranks.

"Not so much of how good your team is, it's how good is everybody else," he said. "That makes a difference. Some of the best teams that I have coached never won a state championship. Some of the best teams that I have coached never even made it to the state championship."

Tiernan, who calls himself "a terrible computer guy," keeps meticulous notes in a filling cabinet from each day of practice. He still has day-by-day accounts of preparing for Coach Ayers and Jetmore in 2003.

During the years, one change came from blocking and tackling drills.

Now, the teams do blocking and tackling for the first eight and a half, maybe nine weeks of the season instead of through the playoffs.

"Honestly, if we don't have it by them, if we can't tackle by then or know how to block by them form-wise, you are not going to get it," he said. "Then, it's just kind of get your legs back, find out what the other team is going to do, know what our game plan is."

This season, Osborne had to navigate a playoff stretch of Madison, MDCV and Clifton-Clyde. Not focusing as much on blocking and tackling helped.

"You don't have a lot of time to go out there and do anything but learn what they are going to do," Tiernan said.

In 2007, the Falcons went 7-3 and enjoyed a six-win improvement to 13-0 the next year. B&B had 11 seniors and six juniors and Tiernan decided to play platoon football, an extreme rarity at the eight-man ranks. Tiernan admitted the idea "was crazy" when he first considered it, but it worked well. Tiernan said he believes an eight-man team will never do it again.

"Time you get to the third and fourth quarter, we are not even sweating, the other team is over there dying," Tiernan said.

B&B ran two-platoon all regular season and, helped, by the depth, defeated a bigger Clifton-Clyde team, 24-16, in the state championship.

"We would have never beat Clifton-Clyde," Tiernan said.

In 2004, B&B lost a 22-8 lead and fell to Victoria 30-28 at state. In 2009, the Falcons returned most of its state title team, but lost 28-26 to Quinter.

"Kind of stung a little," Tiernan said. "Not to take anything away from anyone of those teams, but I just would like to think that if we played them again then it would have turned around differently."

In 2010, B&B defeated Otis-Bison in the championship game, his final game with the Falcons. Justin Coup has now ran the streak to six straight state games, while Osborne is experiencing its first state game in 30 years. Tiernan said this week has brought plenty of excitement and enthusiasm for the rare event, a different feeling than at B&B.

"Not to sound arrogant, but after a few times there, that's kind of what people are expecting at B&B was that we would be at state again," he said.

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